Edea blog - Assuming is self-centred

The pitfalls of assuming

Nearly every organisation claims to be customer-oriented. They claim that their products and services are developed for customers, addressing their needs and desires. The most customer-friendly organisations go even further and claim to be partners with their customers. Customer orientation may even be included in the company’s strategy.

Too often, however, this is self-deception or an outright lie.

Considering the needs and desires of customers within your own team is not customer-oriented or empathetic. Assuming on behalf of others is merely a refined form of self-centredness.

Alarm bells should ring if developers start saying things like, “I would certainly want…”, “It would annoy me if…”, “Surely the smartest thing is to…”, or “No one would want…”


People are different

Assumptions are particularly tempting when the product or service being developed is everyday or familiar, or when it seems easy to empathise with its use. Stepping into the customer’s shoes then seems very possible. It may be hard to believe that the customer would think and behave completely differently from the developers.

In reality, people’s goals, characteristics, thought patterns, and usage situations are individual and multifaceted.

A product or service may go unused if its actual use is cumbersome. Social pressures influence behaviour more than anyone wants to admit. If the product is more complex than a coffee cup, even seemingly excellent functionality may not hit the customer’s goal accurately.

Users’ physical and mental characteristics pose their own challenges. Vision, hearing, muscle strength, and motor skills deteriorate with age, but there is also significant variation among people of the same age. Even reading comprehension or literacy is not always a given.

Cultural differences should not be forgotten either. Words, numbers, colours, symbols, and practices carry strong cultural connotations. A wrong solution can exclude some users.


Developer vs. user

The tendency to assume on behalf of the user is even greater in professional solutions than in consumer products and services. The more complex the product or service being developed, the more difficult it is perceived to be for its future users. There arises an arrogant notion that it is better to have experts design the solution.

Another common sin of developers is viewing the solution from the inside out. They need ways to directly influence the components of the machinery or software, which leads to the functions needed to control and monitor these being built into the interface. The technical implementation starts to shape the interface rather than the other way around.

What interests the user, however, is not what happens under the hood, but how they can reach their goal as efficiently and pleasantly as possible. It is a mistake to think that extra functionality does not bother the user as long as it includes what they need. In reality, unnecessary functions are actually harmful. They increase complexity and degrade usability.


Costly mistakes are easy to avoid

Assuming leads to wrong solutions, whether out of arrogance or cost pressures. The impacts are far-reaching.

Correcting misguided assumptions once product development is underway can prove impossible. At the very least, it requires a lot of work, time, and money. If the project does not collapse entirely, it will be delayed, over budget, or end up being cut down.

Research shows a range of reasons for project failure. Above all, one stands out: the lack of user involvement.

The challenges of ignorance and assuming are evident. Yet, horrifyingly often, a project relies on the internal deliberation of the development team about who will actually use the solution, what use cases and situations it might have, and what solutions would be needed for these.

There is a simple remedy for the dangers of assuming. The better we learn to understand customers, the better we can develop products and services they want to buy and use.


Edea’s Design Puzzle™ toolkit is a step-by-step process for strategic product development. We designed it to tap into the insights of the users, generate an in-depth understanding of their goals, combine it business insight and state-of-the-art technology enablers, and convert these all into a clear formula for success. Check it out!